Guest Post by Lisa Ramsey, Doula.
So, my name is Lisa Ramsey and I have been a doula for 8 years now and I love it! Most of my working hours are spent either with couples preparing for birth, with couples during birth or supporting new parents in those first weeks and months with a new baby. It’s a fabulous job, if you can call it a job. It’s more who I am; it’s just what I do and thankfully I get paid for it.
Do you support people who already have a birth partner?
I got asked today whether I support women who already have a birth partner, usually their life partner, and yes I do. I think being a doula supporting almost 100 births, I must have done maybe five where there wasn’t also a birth partner present.
These were special because my birth doula role merged somewhat with the birth partner role and it was just me and the birthing woman, journeying towards welcoming her baby and just us in the birth room (with a midwife also).
But most of the time, my role as a doula is ‘space-holder’. I hold space for the couple.
That means I create space for people to explore their thoughts, feelings, options around birth and then when we get to the birth I hold that space allowing them to do their thing – the birthing woman in her birthing power birthing her baby or babies, and the birth partner doing their vital partnering thing of being totally present in each moment with her, usually in absolute awe of her strength and perseverance. I support ‘them’ to have a positive birth experience.
What makes a positive birth experience?
The answer for me is really easy. A positive birth experience is one where the birthing woman is treated with kindness and compassion, where she is listened to and where she is in control. So this is part of my doula role in a birth, to make sure this happens as best I can. A positive birth isn’t dependent on where the birth happens, or how or with whom, though those things can make a huge difference. Instead, an understanding that sometimes birth happens, maybe not in the way that was expected or hoped, and that having support in that moment of someone non-judgemental and kind and loving and unbiased and solely just for you can be invaluable.
Saying that, having a doula to help you prepare and get a grasp of all the evidence-based birth-related info that’s out there can really broaden your horizons of your choices around birth and help you make informed decisions that are right for you. There is no one size that fits all in birth. I support couples to make choices that are right for them, be that home or hospital, vaginal birth or caesarean birth, breast or bottle feeding or any of the choices in between.
What do you do before labour?
So a bit like a mum, always listening out for her child at night, always aware of their need to eat and play, I have the couples I’m supporting on my radar or on my mind from the moment we start working together, sometime in pregnancy, until they are happy and settled with their new baby.
During their pregnancy, I tend to ‘check in’ with how they are – how they really are, not just niceties – the ‘what are you feeling, what’s going on for you today, how are you relaxing?’ type questions.
Then the nearer we get to the birth, the more I listen out for my phone to ring at 3am with a, ‘I think I’m having contractions’ type call. At which point, my mind splits in two.
I usually don’t go to be with couples early in the birth process because it’s a time where her oxytocin levels are building slowly and me, or any other outsider, being there is likely to slow that precious work. So my life becomes half here with my family and half with them in the birth, until I get the call asking me to come and that’s when I depart my life, bidding my family farewell with no idea when I’ll return.
If this is overnight my farewell is a kiss to a sleeping forehead and a note detailing arrangements in my absence and expressing my love. I leave my life to be present in someone else’s for three or thirty hours – however long it takes. And being there with such devotion means that each couple, and their baby, then always have a little space in my heart.
What do you do at a birth?
My presence at a birth can look different for different couples and different at different stages of the birth process.
Sometimes, I’ll be sat colouring or reading, because my presence is all that’s needed in that moment and the birth partner is doing great verbal encouragement or back massage or swaying with the woman.
Other times, I’ll be the one encouraging or massaging or swaying while the birth partner grabs a sandwich or a coffee or a nap. Sometimes we’ll both be actively supporting the birthing woman; one massaging and one encouraging. It’s all her choice, whatever she wants.
I always say that on the day a women births her baby, she is like the queen – whatever she wants happens; whatever she wants to eat, watch, wear, smell, see, listen to and do. She is in control, this is her day, she is leading this dance and we follow her lead.
Because she is the ‘birther’, she is feeling this baby inside her, the baby IS her until he or she is born and that umbilical cord is cut. So the day she births is the day to hold her, love her, support her, to be in the moment with her as she works so tremendously hard to see her baby reach her arms.
And once he or she is there, in the new mother’s arms, and relief and exhaustion and exhilaration fill the room, that’s when I actively step back in my doula role, because those moments will be imprinted on the parents’ minds and I don’t need to be in that. The imprint they need is them and their baby, they did it, they gave birth and they are amazing.
I usually hang around and do my stuff – make sure they’re comfortable, they… mum, dad and baby – have eaten, they’re relaxed and content, before I slip away, promising to keep my phone on, check in on them later that day and come back and see them in a few days or sooner if they need me to.
I return to my life, my family, my home. Tell them I love them, that I’m grateful they support me to do this work and then I make myself tea and toast, I shower and then I sleep – usually for a long time.
What do you do postnatally?
When I’m supporting new parents in my role as a postnatal doula, much of what I do at a birth happens, just in a different context.
My priorities are the same. It’s important that the parents are the ones in control – this is their baby, whom no-one else knows quite like they do.
Yes there are a million different ideas about how to care for a new baby and tonnes of conflicting advice and baby books telling you what to do, how to do it and when, but with gentle, kind, loving support, parents know how to parent.
They might not feel like it because they are knackered, but they do and I think I encourage them to listen to that small, quiet voice deep inside them that knows. Because that voice is not just crucial when parenting a baby, that voice is crucial when that baby becomes a toddler and then a child and then a teenager.
Likewise, learning to parent together is part of the journey for new parents – throwing each of your ideologies about parenting in your shared pot, mixing them round and coming out with the way that’s right for you is paramount in becoming parents that support each other and work together.
Yes there are hints and tips that I can offer and suggestions of ways to comfort, feed, help a baby to sleep, but that’s all I have to give, along with a huge boost of confidence and encouragement. I don’t give advice and I don’t believe there is one way to parent. Again one size does not fit all.
I also do stuff that makes life a little easier for new parents, like laundry or sorting the kitchen or holding the baby while mum has a nap.
The doula’s journey
At the end of the day being a doula is like joining people who invite me to join them on their journey for a little while.
I walk with them, I support them practically and emotionally and make sure they have access to all the information so they can make their own informed decisions about their pregnancy, their birth experience and their parenting.
It’s a total joy, I get so much out of this work. It feeds me to see women feeling empowered and like they can do anything they choose, to see partners have an integral role and a toolkit for how they can be supportive, and ultimately it feeds me to see each member of a new little family growing and developing, moving forward together as a little unit on this journey we call life.
You can read more about my doula services and the other birth work I do on my website: confidentbirthing.co.uk.
Lisa Ramsey is a birth and postnatal Doula and antenatal educator based in West Reading. She offers Birth pool hire, Blessingways and closing the bones ceremonies. She is an Active member of Reading, Wokingham & West Berks Maternity Forum and is a member of Berkshire Doulas, a local group of Doula UK doulas.